NASA to move data faster with bigger pipes

NASA is poised to unveil a high-speed Ethernet network that will allow officials to electronically send large files between government agencies more easily.

Officials at the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center are developing a high-

performance cluster of processors to run on a 10 Gigabit Ethernet network developed by Force10 Networks Inc. The network will be tested at Goddard's Earth and Space Data Computing Division.

Until recently, many government research labs had their own unique missions, said Steve Garrison, Force10's senior director of corporate marketing. "Now government officials are saying, 'Let's collaborate [between Los Alamos National Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory],' which sounds good. But the question is how do you connect those agencies using big, fat [communication] pipes?"

In order to handle the transmission of

bandwidth-intensive applications, technology managers at research facilities are installing optical fiber networks, which handle more data than traditional metal cables, to accommodate the enormous bandwidth demands between agencies, Garrison said. Ten Gigabit Ethernet runs on optical fiber cable.

Force10's 10 Gigabit network, known as the E100 and part of the company's E Series of products, offers built-in redundancy to simplify network topology, management and troubleshooting. The E100 also has a fault-containment system to shield performance from network attacks. These capabilities enable the rapid transmission of huge files and allow scientists to process data in real time. Now pilots, for example, can experience a sense of motion during flight simulation exercises.

"Our scientists develop a broad spectrum of flight missions and maintain advanced information systems for the display, analysis, archiving and distribution of space and Earth science data," said Pat Gary, networking project manager at the Goddard division, in a written statement.

NASA has 14 satellites orbiting the Earth that transmit 3 terabytes of data each day. To distribute that data, "you've got to have big pipes," Garrison said.

Goddard's use of the E100 marks the first public deployment of 10 Gigabit Ethernet. About four years ago, officials from Argonne National Laboratory, which is part of the Energy Department, led efforts to accommodate large bandwidth. Although Ethernet has been around for 25 years, 10 Gigabit Ethernet has only been available since 2002. High-performance computing clusters have been starved for data. Access to disk drives and the performance of the links through which computers communicate have not been nearly as powerful, said Jonathan Eunice, principal analyst for Illuminata Inc.

"The race is now on as these clusters get bigger and better to provide [more] quality connections," he said. Ethernet's advantage is its popularity. The downside is that because 10 Gigabit Ethernet is still somewhat experimental, its costs can be high.

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